Best Scenic Routes in Southeast Europe

Southeast Europe might not be the first place that comes to mind if you’re searching for the best scenic routes in Europe. But the region’s picturesque journeys might just surprise you. From the Carpathians and the Balkan Mountains to the Dinaric Alps, the geography in this part of the world doesn’t boast the same altitudes as those in the west. But most of it remains far less-traveled, and it’s all yours to discover.

Whether you enjoy exploring the great outdoors or getting urban, Southeast Europe offers something for everyone – all at a fraction of the cost of Western Europe. In this part of the world travel tends to take a little longer and the trains are a little older. But it’s exactly these things that make it such a unique experience – and a more adventurous one. Not to mention a breeze with a Eurail Select Pass and Eurail Global Pass.

Bucharest to Brasov or Sibiu, Romania

Best Scenic Routes in Southeast Europe - Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania

Best scenic routes | Peles Castle from a different angle. Sinaia, Romania

Bucharest (Bucuresti) is Romania’s predominantly concrete capital. A train ride to Transylvania, or “the land beyond the forest”, is a nice change of pace and scenery. Brasov and Sibiu both make great bases for exploring this mythical and colorful region of Dracula fame. But make no mistake, this region offers so much more than kitsch and folklore. Medieval towns, castles and fortresses, fortified churches, mountain resorts, underground glaciers, and one of the last true wilderness areas of Europe. Romania’s most prosperous region has it all.

You’ll be winding your way through the Southern Carpathian mountains. A stop-off in Sinaia to see the magnificent Neo-Renaissance masterpiece, Peles Castle, is highly recommended. Ride its cable car to the top for some spectacular mountain views in the summer. The entire journey from Bucharest, which is especially scenic between Ploiesti and Brasov, takes between three to seven hours. Reservations are required.

Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia

Best Scenic Routes in Southeast Europe - Waterfall Cijevna, Podgorica, Montenegro

Best scenic routes | Waterfall Cijevna in the rocks. Podgorica, Montenegro

Perhaps the most beautiful train route east of Switzerland is the one that runs between Belgrade (Beograd) and Bar. Serbia’s magnetic capital might be the easiest place to catch the train and head south. But you’ll get far more out of the journey if you do the trip from south to north instead, during months when the sun doesn’t set much earlier than 8 p.m. Almost immediately you’ll be gripped by lovely views as you leave the Adriatic Coast and make your way towards the Montenegrin Mountains.

From Podgorica onwards, prepare to have your mind blown until the Serbian border. You’ll pass through mountain after mountain, with views of some of the most beautiful countryside in the Balkans. One of the highest aqueducts in the world, Mala Rijeka, is about 20 km north of Podgorica. It only makes an appearance when traveling towards Serbia. For those who enjoy adding new countries to their list, you should also know the train briefly skirts through Bosnia and Herzegovina in the wee hours. No border checks are involved.

For the time being, there’s only one train a day that leaves from Bar at 5 p.m. It arrives in Belgrade the next morning at 9:40 a.m. Reservations are optional (though recommended during peak season).

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Best Scenic Routes in Southeast Europe - Iskar Gorge, Bulgaria

Best scenic routes | The Rocks of Lakatnik. Located on the left slope of Iskar Gorge, Bulgaria

Rolling into Sofia’s main train station may be a frightening experience for some. Think a slightly spruced up Soviet bunker with a McDonald’s and a ton of construction. But rolling out of it and towards Veliko Tarnovo, one of Bulgaria’s most delightful towns, will be a travel memory not soon forgotten. The journey takes approximately 4.5 hours and reservations are optional.

It doesn’t take long, about 40 kilometers, until you reach the resort town of Svoge and the fantastic voyage truly begins. You may want to hop off to spend a couple of hours taking in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Iskar Gorge. From Svoge, the railway line casually hugs the Iskar River, a tributary of the Danube. The Balkan Mountains, in all its rocky glory, make an incredibly unique backdrop. Have your cameras ready.